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Terrorism deaths are down worldwide, but way up in richer countries

An Islamic State flag hangs amid electric wires over a street
Reuters/Ali Hashisho
ISIL became active in 15 new countries last year.
By Aamna Mohdin
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Terrorism in 2015 was relentless.

The year began with a deadly attack at the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, where armed gunman killed 12 people and wounded five others. That was followed by two attacks in Copenhagen, one at a free-speech debate and another at the city’s largest synagogue. There was a deadly assault at a Tunisian museum (and later a popular beach), and a bombing in Baghdad that killed more than 100 Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan. Then the year ended as it began, with another massacre in Paris—Europe’s worst terror attack in a decade.

Although deaths caused by terrorism fell 10% from 2014, terrorist attacks still claimed the lives of 29,376 people in 2015, according the Global Terrorism Index (pdf), put together by the Institute for Economics and Peace. The index has measured global trends in terrorism over the past 16 years, and the most recent report described 2015 as the second-deadliest year on record. The deadliest was 2014, with 32,765 deaths.

Of the deaths from terrorism last year, 72% occurred in just five countries: Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Syria. Just four groups were responsible for 74% of the deaths: the Islamic State, Boko Haram, the Taliban, and al-Qa’ida.

ISIL’s growing influence has had a particularly devastating effect on many of the 35 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which altogether saw a 650% increase in terrorism-related deaths last year, to 577, from 77 in 2014. More than half of those deaths were connected to ISIL. In 2015, Denmark, France, Germany, Sweden, and Turkey each experienced the greatest number of deaths from terrorism since 2000. Turkey was particularly affected: Terrorism-related deaths jumped from 20 in 2014 to 337 last year.

France has had an average of one person a year die from terrorism since 2000, and saw 161 such deaths in 2015, a dramatic increase from just one terrorism-related death a year earlier. The country, which rarely observes days of national mourning, has done so three times in the past 18 months.

By contrast, Iraq and Nigeria saw the biggest declines in terrorism-related deaths—the two countries experienced 5,556 fewer such deaths in 2015 than a year earlier, a decline of 32%. That falloff was largely attributable to a weakened Boko Haram in Nigeria and ISIL in Iraq. Iraqi government forces have slowly driven ISIL out of Nimrud, the site of an ancient Assyrian city, and are currently fighting to recapture Mosul. While ISIL is slowly losing power in its central areas of Iraqi operation, the group did expand its reach in 2015, becoming active in 15 new countries. That brought the total number of countries with an ISIL presence to 28.

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